Animal testing done at Eastern Virginia Medical School was found to have made two critical-level violations of the Animal Welfare Act in a January federal inspection.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service found that animal research at the Norfolk institution was not humanely caring for the animals through the testing process and that process had deviated from the testing proposals that had been previously approved, according to the report publicly available on the USDA website. Research on animals is overseen and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of the National Institutes of Health.
Four female chinchillas, a type of South American rodent, lost between 25% to 30% of their weight and were kept in the tests, though were supposed to be removed if they lost over 20% of their body weight. Three chinchillas were noted to arrive at EVMS on Feb. 19, 2020, and two euthanized and one died months later by Sept. 7 while the fourth was euthanized on Oct. 18, 2021, according to the report.
In a more recent anesthesia study, testing on monkeys deviated from approved plans as two were above the maximum age of testing of 23 years, five females were underweight, two monkeys received sweetened drinks for 7.5 months when they were supposed to only receive them for three to six months. Six monkeys also received extra insulin and sugar injected and had blood drawn more often than approved, according to the report.
“The facility failed to utilize appropriate methods to prevent, control, and diagnose medical issues that arose from the administration of IV insulin, ultimately leading to the death of an animal and hours of unresolved, low blood glucose levels in others,” according to part of the report.
The inspection was performed Jan. 12, according to the report.
The violations in the report are some of the worst cases that Michael Budkie, of anti-animal testing group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said he’s seen in over three decades.
Budkie said penalties are still relatively low for such institutions meaning they do not end up having a “meaningful impact.” APHIS moves to enforcement if they discover that researchers have not made the appropriate fixes required after an inspection, according to the USDA.
“That’s why alerting the general public and exposing what happens in these facilities is equally important as any legal action that the USDA would take,” he said. “Because research facilities we have found value their public reputation.”
PETA has filed a complaint against EVMS to the National Institutes of Health and is advocating that the institution no longer receive funding from the federal agency, which provided $7. million to EVMS last year.
The January federal report required the medical school to amend the issues by Feb. 16, according to the report. Both studies were completed by that date, according to a statement from EVMS.
EVMS was contracted to provide the facility for the chinchilla research, the statement said. EVMS did not provide the name of the Richmond company Wednesday or Thursday.
“COVID restrictions limited access to the facilities where the animals were housed and hampered the ability to conduct research as dictated by the research protocol,” the response said. “The company was not responsive to repeated inquiries; however, in the interim, the EVMS veterinary care staff continued to monitor the animals to assess their overall well-being. Once COVID restrictions were lifted, the company completed the study and the research project has been closed by EVMS.”
In the monkey testing, the researcher was unable to get monkeys in the age and size range that he had previously submitted for approval, according to EVMS. Monkeys outside the age range protocols but otherwise met the experimental parameters were found and the researcher did not inform the oversight committee.
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“Two staff veterinarians monitored and cared for the animals during the research period, although all medical interventions were not fully documented. Although some animals took longer than anticipated to recover from anesthesia and blood sugar levels were not recorded, the veterinarians consulted with the investigator on a regular basis as to the medical status of the animals and they treated the animals as they deemed appropriate within the confines of what was medically allowable without negatively exacerbating their clinical status,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, not all of the animals responded to treatment.”
Budkie and other anti-animal testing groups have said that animal testing is ineffective compared to other modern drug testing techniques.
“When you layer on top of that the fact that facilities like [EVMS] do not even follow their own approved protocols, that makes this experimentation into scientific nonsense,” he said. “And the scientific world and the general public would be much better served if facilities like EVMS used much more cutting edge technology such as organ on a chip technology, which is based on human tissue as opposed to something happening on a guinea pig or a chinchilla or even a nonhuman primate.”
EVMS said the IACUC that approve animal research protocols are now counseling EVMS researchers.
Animal testing is done by researchers to establish safety of a new product and is sometimes decided upon after other avenues of figuring out a product’s safety have been ruled out, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The federal administration also believes companies should consider every other avenue before deciding on animal testing.
“Moreover, in all cases where animal testing is used, FDA advocates that research and testing derive the maximum amount of useful scientific information from the minimum number of animals and employ the most humane methods available within the limits of scientific capability,” the FDA website said.
Ian Munro, 757-447-4097, email@example.com